Meet Preview: 2020 NJCAA DI Cross Country Championships

It’s finally here.

After months of speculation and a few more months of racing, the 2020 NJCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will take place this weekend in Fort Dodge, Iowa. This marks the fourth time since 2013 that Iowa Central CC has played host to the championships (2013, 2015, 2017, 2020).

From The USTFCCCA InfoZone: National Championships Central

Here is our preview of the meet, which should be a fantastic culmination to the 2020 season.

The Women’s 5K gets underway at 9:30 am, followed 45 minutes later by the Men’s 8K.

Men’s Preview

There might be a unanimous No. 1 in the final NJCAA Division I Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll of the regular season, but that doesn’t stop the race from being contested this weekend – as the national title is decided on the course, not on paper.

Iowa Central CC, seeking its first crown since 2017 and fourth since 2010, snagged all seven first-place votes from the coaches – and justifiably so. Not only did the Tritons easily win the Region XI crown this past weekend against No. 2 Iowa Western CC, but it also has an incredible 1-2 punch at the top of its lineup with Region XI individual champion Kelvin Bungei and Pur Biel. Iowa Central CC also has a very capable third man in Hunter Klimek.

The aforementioned Reivers were the only other program to put three or more runners in the top-10 at the Region XI Championships. It should be mentioned that Iowa Western CC, led by regional runner-up Yonas Mogos, upended a short-handed Iowa Central CC earlier this fall and gained the confidence from that result. Kassim Kibet and Wimachmorr Gilo also ran well for the Reivers a few weeks ago.

Defending champion Cloud County CC sits third and has an outside shot at repeating, if the cards fall its way. Depth is an issue for the T-Birds as they have two incredible front-runners in regional champion Awet Beraki and Habtamu Geta, but need their third through fifth to step up.

Fourth-ranked College of Southern Idaho and fifth-ranked Hutchinson CC should contend for podium spots as they’ve resided in the top-5 all season long.

The race for the individual title should be a dandy with Beraki, Biel, Bungei, Geta and Mogos all ready to stake their claim. Don’t discount Teagan Flanagan of Hutchinson CC, either.

Women’s Preview

For the first time in four years, a new team will top the podium following the conclusion of the women’s race at the NJCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

That’s because three-time defending champion and eight-time overall champion Iowa Central CC won’t be competing due to COVID-19 concerns. The Tritons, who were ranked No. 1 in the final National Coaches’ Poll of the regular season and poised to complete the first four-peat in program history, went into mandatory quarantine late last week. Iowa Central CC’s last race of the season was a victory at the Region XI Championships.

Second-ranked Cloud County CC is now the favorite, having received the first-place vote that kept Iowa Central CC from being unanimous. The T-Birds also went undefeated against fellow NJCAA DI programs this fall. Cloud County CC comes into the meet after thumping the competition at the Region VI Championships two weeks ago, where it put five runners in the top-10 and outscored a talented field by 47 points. Former National Athlete of the Week Patricia Koma is the top runner for the T-Birds and should be up in the lead pack this weekend.

Third-ranked Colby CC and fourth-ranked Iowa Western CC have an outside shot of taking down the T-Birds this weekend, but need to run a perfect team-oriented race. Fifth-ranked College of Southern Idaho has been a surprise this fall and is ready to contend for the podium.

The individual title is Faith Linga’s to lose. Linga, a sophomore at Iowa Western CC, is undefeated this fall and 8-1 in the past two years with her only loss coming at the Region XI Championships last year. She is looking to become just the third woman in NJCAA DI history to win back-to-back individual titles.